Ofsted and hijab!

Letter to Amanda Spielman HMCI of education

Dear Amanda Spielman

PHOAs a retired inspector of schools who participated in Ofsted school inspections for fourteen years, I’m sad to see Ofsted credibility being recently damaged by government/political influence, resulting in situations like the Birmingham factor and Ofsted siding with the discredited  Prevent duty  for schools.

Your own appointment as HMCI was highly controversial as you were appointed despite your nomination was rejected by the Education Select Committee which expressed concerns about your suitability, citing your lack of teaching experience and failure to show “passion” and supposed failure to show understanding of the “complex role”.

I’m sure you are aware of the government reports about the dynamics of Islamophobia and increased hate crimes as a result of the Brexit scaremongering and Islamophobia, intensively recycled by the far right politicians, activists and media.

Following the politicisation of Muslim dress in Europe, very unfortunate that this, along with more specific ‘hijab’ (a strong coded reference to stir up anti-Muslim feelings), is getting grip in Britain.

It is most worrying to find that while educationists and social scientists are playing their crucial part in combating the rise of far right that risks socio-cultural stability in an otherwise generally harmonious Britain, schools are used to give far right an opportunity to use their prime Islamophobic  tool, the  hijab.

Your announcement that inspectors are to question children who wear the hijab to primary school has no educational validity and tends to confirm your perceived ‘failure to show passion and understanding of the complex role’.

During many school inspections, inspectors observed children from the Jehovah’s Witnesses background distinctly dressed, not taking part in some curricular activities, not using some equipment and not sitting with other children to dine but inspectors were not required to nor did they question or reported on these children’s socio-cultural/ religious beliefs or practices at the school.

No doubt pupil interview by inspectors is a valuable part of the inspection process and has been professionally carried out to find more about the school’s work and life and not about what pupils wear and why. It would be sheer nonsense to ask other girls about their dress, including skirts and certain hair bands which are obviously not used by boys – could this be sexualising children?

You would like inspectors to assess ‘sexualising’ of children in the interest of children’s welfare while  there have been almost 30,000 reports of child-on-child sexual abuse since 2013, 2,625 of which took place in schools despite that inspector evaluate safeguarding of pupils – what a concerning situation!

Schools know what is best for them, including the school uniform and dress code for staff.  Most schools take into account the socio-cultural norms of its population as a part of its equal opportunities drive and should be allowed to do so. The archives of the school inspection reports would show examples of the evaluation of how well a school operates within its context as emerging from its input characteristics.

What purpose the hijab probe and resulting reason given for wearing it recorded in school reports would serve except to link hijab with the Prevent strategy – that is, taking hijab as a token of ‘radicalisation’ – sort of  ‘state Islamophobia in practice’, most probably for pleasing the far right?

Why to subject Ofsted to such a play while Ofsted was created and remained so for many years as  a respectable and independent body, primarily to watch teaching, learning and the factors such as the adequacy of resources that impact the work of the school.

I would have thought that more pressing need at present is to extend focus on pupils SMSC (social, moral, spiritual and cultural) development to include sexual harassment, given many high profile cases of sexual harassment in a variety of settings, including the Commons. But then perhaps stereotyping Muslims and institutionalising Islamophobia are much more important.

Look forward to hearing from you.


Husain Akhtar
Retired Harrow Councillor
Harrow Council for Justice
Harrow Monitoring Group


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